Have a go Hastings

9th March 2007 at 00:00
There's more to the famous battle than books and brutal facts, some schools use dance and drama to get pupils thinking. Phil Mills reports

War. What is it good for? Well, teaching primary children about interpretative dance, for one. Pupils at Stafford Junior School in Eastbourne, East Sus-sex, have been learning everything about their region's most famous event - the Battle of Hastings.

But instead of just reading from a book, they experienced it through an experimental mix of drama, dance and art, which culminated in a collaborative project with pupils aged 12 and 13 from the nearby Cavendish Secondary School.

The secondary pupils brought 1066 and all that alive by presenting television spoofs, sketches and dance routines to the younger ones. One played a TV news presenter, going live to their royal correspondent for an exclusive interview with King Harold on his deathbed. Another, as Anne Robinson on The Weakest Link, barked questions such as: "When was the battle? Where was it fought? Who was King of England at the time?"

After the secondary pupils' performances, the class broke up into "dance workshops", where the seniors taught groups of juniors dance movements that they then used to re-enact the battle in front of teachers and other pupils. Accompanied by military music, children took on the roles of archers or axe-men, joining the battle, then fleeing the field.

The process began a few weeks beforehand with writing and drama activities to get pupils thinking about warriors as real people.

"Using a painting of a cavalry charge, I got the children to discuss, not the battle itself, but the feelings and emotions of those involved as they rode into battle," says Helen Rosewarne, the school's head of Year 3 and literacy leader, who created the programme.

"They assumed the roles of characters and made up stories about how they were feeling. Some said things like 'I don't want to leave my family to fight, I might never return'. Others were quite keen to get on with killing. There were a range of interpretations."

The children drew round each other on lining paper and filled in the details of one of the people in the picture. After that, the story of the Battle of Hastings was introduced. They watched film re-enactments and then acted out episodes in class.

"Children need to experience emotions and feelings to properly understand them, and they need to be taught skills and how to use them," says Helen.

"Drama and dance are good and enjoyable ways for them to do this."

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